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Almost two years back mobile internet usage overtook fixed internet usage, a feat which was considered as a huge landmark in the world's digital history. Today, 75.1% of the mobile phone population in North America accesses the internet through their mobile phone. This figure is expected to grow to 85.6% by 2018! This increase in internet usage has occurred due the proliferation of apps. By 2017, the App Market will become a USD 77 Billion industry with over 268 billion mobile app downloads.
At the same time, this growth in mobile app usage has also raised a lot of security questions, so much so that the next big challenge that all businesses facing is that of mobile application security.
Mobile apps are largely considered unsecure because they need continuous internet connectivity. This is heightened by the fact that many power users try installing apps from unreliable sources thereby inviting malware and hampering the security of other apps on the phone as well. According to a report by Alcatel-Lucent's Motive Security Labs, an estimated 16 million mobile devices worldwide have been infected by malware.
This trend therefore points to a future where mobile security is of utmost importance. As identity thefts and credit card hacks become more commonplace, certain security measures need to be implemented so as to ensure strict user confidentiality and overall security.
1. Strong Hack-proof Code: Mobile apps are highly vulnerable to malware attacks and data breaches and this mandates that developers pay extra attention to write a robust code that is free from backdoors which in turn could be infringed by hackers. This is one of the essentials of mobile application security. App developers must implement mobile app security standards and make sure that their apps utilize, transmit, or store bare minimum data. Security has to be the top priority during the entire lifecycle of mobile app development, starting from design, development, testing, deployment, to maintenance (regular version updates)
2. Optimize Security Features on a Platform-by-platform Basis Mobile apps work on various platforms, devices, operating systems, and networks. These apps also access a lot of other features of the phone. The developers should be cautious about the features, capabilities, and limitations of various devices, operating systems and so on. By taking these aspects into consideration and optimizing the security based on the platforms on which the app would be used, a more secure mobile app can be designed
3. Remove Unnecessary Security Risks: Each mobile app has its own set of features. Some features might not be so vital to the overall functioning of the app, such as social network connectivity. The designers and developers of mobile applications should pay special attention to such features and take a call whether they need to keep them within the app or not. Such high security features should be managed effectively to ensure overall mobile app security, and if unnecessary, be removed
4. Allow User Permissions For granular control over the app, mobile app developers can make their devices more secure by implementing security measures at the application layer. This allows users to select their own level of security settings based on personal preferences and keep their devices safe from malicious applications
5. Choose Third-party Libraries Wisely: Third-party libraries are highly popular amongst mobile app developers. They utilize the code offered in such libraries, but threats might lurk in that code. It is advisable to thoroughly test the codes taken from third-party libraries before incorporating it with your own mobile app code, since many might have malicious code lurking around
6. Select a Reliable Backend: Security of backend systems is also important while developing mobile apps. Hackers can gain access to the backend systems and pose a threat to your entire operation. Therefore, just like the frontend systems, backend systems should also go through rigorous security testing before eventual deployment
7. Deploy Tamper-detection Techniques: Deploy techniques that minimize code tampering. It is commonly known that attackers insert malicious code into mobile apps and then automatically get the data and publish it elsewhere. There are various tamper detection and anti-tamper techniques that could be included in your mobile app coding so that you get warned when any such activity occurs, such as verifying the apps signature at runtime, identifying app installer, performing environment checks, etc
8. Ensure Data Security during Transit and Storage: The biggest challenge posed to mobile app security is that mobile apps have to connect with external networks. They connect to internet via Wi-Fi, cellular networks, VPN, non-encrypted networks, and so on. This has to be given special consideration by developers and precautions should be taken to encrypt data during transit. All the critical user information like login details, passwords, personal info should be encrypted. The data should be stored in encrypted data containers and any unnecessary data should not be stored within phone memory at all
9. Test Thoroughly: Probably the most important security check you can perform is by thoroughly testing the app. This is because the application goes through a lot of hands and different versions during the development and post-production. Mobile app security testing should be the priority at every stage of development. Also make sure that your app is designed as per the security regulations given by credit card industry, GPS, device manufacturers, etc. Also, ensure that your app is frequently updated
10. Use the Latest Cryptography Techniques: Most widely used cryptographic protocols and algorithms such as MD5 and SHA1 are insufficient as per modern security standards. Therefore it is better to use state-of-the-art encryption APIs such as 256-bit AES encryption combined with SHA-256 for hashing. As a developer, you should also invest in threat modeling, penetration testing, etc.
Going into 2016 and beyond, mobile app security has to be a top concern for developers as malicious attacks are increasing and users are getting wary of installing unreliable apps.
At O2I, with 17 years of experience in mobile app development, we follow mobile app security best practices and also test the app thoroughly to ensure the reliability and integrity for our clients. We believe that mobile app designing is not only about innovation and creativity, but also about offering a safe user experience.